Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Trump Continues to Defend Saudi Murder of Journalist

Trump with Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman.

Time and time again Donald Trump comes down on the side of autocrats and dictators that range from Vladimir Putin who has had people assassinated and poisoned to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un who has executed his own half-brother and runs slave labor camps. Now, Trump is seemingly siding with the Saudi Arabia rulers who ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  Yesterday, Trump even floated the ludicrous claim that rogue killers might be responsible.  Never mind that (i) Khashoggi disappeared in the high security Saudi consulate in Turkey, and (ii) no one under the Saudi regime acts without approval of the ruling monarch or his lieutenants.  The New York Times reports as follows:
The Trump administration pushed back on Tuesday against rising condemnation of Saudi Arabia and showed support for its crown prince, who has been linked to the disappearance and possible killing of a leading dissident journalist inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
In his strongest language to date over the missing journalist, Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press: “Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
After days of leaks by Turkish officials that accused Saudi Arabia of sending a hit squad to kill Mr. Khashoggi and dismember him with a bone saw, this was the latest indication that the Trump administration would help the kingdom defuse an international crisis for its top Arab ally.
The administration’s moves have come as criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed has intensified — including by Republican members of Congress, business leaders and human rights officials — over Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and apparent murder.
The reported killing has created a bipartisan uproar in Congress, shaking the foundations of the close American-Saudi relationship with calls for suspension of military sales punctuated by particularly strong rebukes of Crown Prince Mohammed, who basically rules the kingdom for his father.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and formerly a strong advocate of Saudi Arabia, has been among the most outspoken critics of the crown prince over the Khashoggi mystery, even before more facts are known.  
Two other pieces in the New York Times show the ridiculous nature of Trump's efforts to defend the murderous Saudi regime.  The first shows that the detail that arrived in Istanbul and apparently murdered Khashoggi have close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is virtually ruling the kingdom.  Here are excerpts:
One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.
Three others are linked by witnesses and other records to the Saudi crown prince’s security detail.
A fifth is a forensic doctor who holds senior positions in the Saudi Interior Ministry and medical establishment, a figure of such stature that he could be directed only by a high-ranking Saudi authority.
That would undercut any suggestion that Mr. Khashoggi died in a rogue operation unsanctioned by the crown prince. Their connection to him could also make it more difficult for the White House and Congress to accept such an explanation.
How much blame for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance or death settles on the 33-year-old crown prince has become a decisive factor in his standing in the eyes of the West and within the royal family.
[I]n the last few days, as major American businesses have withdrawn from a marquee investment conference in Riyadh and members of Congress have stepped up called for sanctions, the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia appear to have been searching for a face-saving way out.
The royal court was expected to acknowledge that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, and to blame an intelligence agent for botching an operation to interrogate Mr. Khashoggi that ended up killing him.
President Trump floated the possibility on Monday that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of “rogue killers.”  But such explanations would run up against a host of hard-to-explain obstacles.
The suspects’ positions in the Saudi government and their links to the crown prince could make it more difficult to absolve him of responsibility. The New York Times has confirmed independently that at least nine of the 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.
Turkish officials have said they possess evidence that the 15 Saudi agents flew into Istanbul on Oct. 2, assassinated Mr. Khashoggi, dismembered his body with a bone saw they had brought for the purpose, and flew out the same day. Records show that two private jets chartered by a Saudi company with close ties to the Saudi crown prince and Interior Ministry arrived and left Istanbul on the day of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish officials said Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate. That timeline would not have allowed much time for an interrogation to go awry.
 A Times main page editorial notes how the lies floated by the Saudi monarchy and Trump are rapidly collapsing.  Here are highlights:
If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Riyadh to read the Riot Act to Saudi rulers over the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he hid it well behind cheery smiles and professions of amity. But then outrage has been conspicuously absent from the Trump administration in the two weeks since Mr. Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again.
The Saudis have reportedly been searching for a cover story for the disappearance of the gadfly Saudi journalist, who had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States and writing columns for The Washington Post. Denial is no longer an option — Turkey appears to have pretty solid evidence that Mr. Khashoggi was killed by thugs flown in from Saudi Arabia — so the word in Washington is that the Saudis will try to claim an attempted kidnapping or interrogation gone bad.
On Monday, when Turkey had already leaked considerable evidence of a hit, Mr. Trump was behaving like a royal apologist.
Some of Mr. Trump’s more serious Republican supporters have taken a far less forgiving stance toward Saudi Arabia and its heir apparent. “This M.B.S. figure to me is toxic,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, who is normally a close ally of the president, using the crown prince’s nickname. “This guy has got to go.”
[T]he White House should have been first to suspend participation in a major investment conference in Riyadh next week until the Saudis provided a credible account of Mr. Khashoggi’s fate, rather than leaving it to American media organizations and business executives to take the lead in pulling out.
If Saudi Arabia is allowed to get away with some lame story about the apparent murder of Mr. Khashoggi, the world’s growing gang of autocrats will feel even less constraint. There are plenty of measures at Mr. Trump’s disposal that would send the right message, from personal sanctions against those behind the Khashoggi operation to a suspension of arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Trump’s aides, members of Congress and allied leaders need to insist that he take the lead in demanding that Saudi Arabia acknowledge what really happened, and why it’s terribly wrong.
One is certainly left wondering why Trump is so strenuously playing apologist for the Saudi dictators.  What are the Saudis holding over him?   Or does Trump merely support the murder of journalist who inconveniently report the truth?   Something does not add up. 

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